Vicksburg uses second-half effort to down scrappy NHS

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; After playing to a 0-0 tie at halftime, Vicksburg first-year soccer coach Casey Smith let his players know that they did not play a very good first half at all.

Things changed

early in the second half as Vicksburg scored two goals in less than a minute and held on to defeat the Natchez High Bulldogs 5-2 Tuesday night at Tom F. Williams Memorial Stadium in the season opener for both teams.

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&uot;That was a close one,&uot; Smith said. &uot;I had heard rumors that Natchez wasn’t very good. But they are a good team. I was impressed.&uot;

Both teams had their chances to score in the first half, but each team’s goalkeepers &045; Natchez’s Aaron Ratliff and Vicksburg’s Jay Griffing &045; made one outstanding save after another.

Jay Hall had an opportunity to give the Gators (1-0) at 1-0 lead with 26 minutes to go, but Ratliff made what Natchez head coach Dennis Hogue called &uot;the play of the game right there&uot; when he made a great save falling backwards.

&uot;He’s normally our attacking center midfielder,&uot; Hogue said. &uot;Joseph Hayes is normally our starting keeper, but he’s got a pulled groin. Aaron’s our best keeper and one of our most athletic players.&uot;

Eighth-grade forward Ross Smith would have given Natchez (0-1) at 1-0 lead with 23 minutes to go in the first half had it not been for an outstanding diving save by Griffing.

Tyler Dement had two chances to give Vicksburg the lead at the half, but both of his kicks went wide left.

Ratliff made two more good saves for the Bulldogs to keep the score 0-0 at halftime.

&uot;They set the bar and these guys played at their level,&uot; Hogue said. &uot;They communicated well. Ross played an outstanding game.&uot;

&uot;Natchez soccer is maturing,&uot; Bulldogs assistant coach Brent Bourland said. &uot;We’re playing on a new level.&uot;

But within one minute the momentum of the game shifted to the Gators thanks to goals by Dement and Corey Burns that gave them a 2-0 lead.

&uot;They marked us up really well. They rattled us up a bit,&uot; Smith said. &uot;Good halftime speech. I let them know what I wanted and I wasn’t very pleased. We got back to our game plan.&uot;

After Michael Cooper scored to give Vicksburg a 3-0 lead, Natchez got back in the game with a goal by Curtis Holder after the ball bounced off Griffing’s head with 19 minutes remaining.

Matt Minyard scored with an assist from Waldon Wolfe to give the Gators a 4-1 lead with just 11 minutes left.

Natchez made it 4-2 after Ratliff, who went in as a midfielder after being replaced by Hayes at goalkeeper, scored on a header less than a minute later.

&uot;Aaron was our MVP of the game,&uot; Hogue said. &uot;Joey did a good job and with a pulled groin.&uot;

Hall scored with just seconds left to end the scoring and a closer game than perhaps many people watching expected.

&uot;It could’ve went either way,&uot; Smith said. &uot;I’m not looking forward to them coming to ‘The Swamp.’ They’re highly motivated.&uot;

In the girls game, the second-ranked Missy Gators scored nine goals in the first half, four by Brandi Parker, en route to an 11-0 win over the Lady Bulldogs.

But despite the loss, Hogue said he was pleased with his team’s effort and that they had fun.

&uot;The girls were excited,&uot; Hogue said. &uot;We knew coming in they were a powerhouse. They went at them. It was a good experience.&uot;

Good because Natchez (0-1) not only have St. Aloysius coming up Friday on the road, but other physical teams such as Franklin County and Loyd Star.

Vicksburg (1-0) won the game despite missing several key players, coach Kevin Manton noted.

&uot;We’re short-handed,&uot; Manton said. &uot;I’ve got three starters out, but I only get two of them back because one’s got a torn ACL.&uot;

Parker played like one of the best girls soccer players in the state, if not the country as she scored three consecutive goals late in the first half to give the Missy Gators a 7-0 lead and they would take a 9-0 lead at halftime.

&uot;We didn’t lose but three (players) from last year’s team, but I had one, Brandi Head, that’s hard to replace,&uot; Manton said.